Many years ago, before starting nursing school, I never had anything to do with the medical field. I always thought that I’d be squeamish at blood and wouldn’t be able to handle a crisis situation. When we started our clinical program at The Western Pennsylvania Hospital school of nursing, we had to wear a specific uniform. No, I am no fashion diva, but, the white polyester button-down smock with forest green piping and coordinating polyester pants, was not my idea of neither the most stylish nor the most comfortable. But, I can still remember the excitement and change in mindset that I felt when I was buttoning up those clear white buttons. It was like something had shifted. I was in the healthcare field.
Our clothing often defines us, consciously or subconsciously. It can be the statement that we want to meet, without words, to the outside world. As a nurse, most of us wear scrubs. They come in different colors and different style, with patterns or plain, but, you know when it is that you were looking at someone who is wearing scrubs. There’s no doubt about it. It’s even become a color-coded system at certain hospitals, where the CNAs will wear one color, the RNs wear a different color and LPNs they also get their own color.
These scrubs are an outward representation of what we are. We’re healthcare workers. We need pockets to hold lots of things. We need materials that dry clear quickly because Lord knows what types of bodily fluids will get spilled on him. We need comfort because imagine being in a stressful shift for 16 hours in uncomfortable clothing. Sounds like a lot of fun to me, not.
Most people respond positively to seeing someone in scrubs. Especially, during this time of worldwide pandemic. I’ve heard of nurses being stopped, just to be thanked for being brave enough to go out when most people have to stay home. People will sometimes see a nurse across the road and clap or honk their horn. In honesty, they don’t know if that person is a nurse or just a caregiver, they just know that person is in scrubs and is going to help people.
So, you can see why I was understandably horrified while reading an article about a nurse that during all of this craziness, was attacked while stopping at a gas station on her way home. She had just worked a shift in the hospital, caring for the sickest of the sick. She not only put herself, but her family’s life at risk. This poor soul was just finishing an errand and the one thing that delineated who she was and is usually a cause for gratitude, now had betrayed her and had become what was targeted for abuse.
Her perpetrators, wrongly accused her of spreading the virus. She was still in her scrubs, that absolutely means that you have the virus all over you and are doing nothing but walking around sending imaginary bits of COVID-19 into the air for those around you to breath in right? Absolutely not! I can assure you that healthcare workers are terrified to spread the virus. We fear giving it to a patient, who might have so many co-morbidities, that this might kill them.
Our scrubs show the world who we are. They illustrate to the world that we worry about everyone’s safety. Our hands are probably washed many more times than we care to admit. We have found so many paper cuts on our hands thanks to our continuous use of hand sanitizer her. Most of us, disrobe after work in our garages, streaking across the house to hop into a shower. Our shoes, left in the garage and pound them out the next morning to make sure they have not have any creepy crawlers guests. We don’t want to expose people to anything that we’ve been exposed to. We don’t want any want to become sick. Not for any reason.
So, seeing that nurse in her scrubs, should have made the people around her feel just a little bit more relaxed. Instead, closed minds and paranoia led to her being attacked. It boggles my mind that the pride I felt putting on those scrubs, almost like my armor, so many years ago when I first started nursing, has now become my Scarlet Letter. It makes me the target for attacks. It makes people fear. Fortunately, I can say that the vast majority of people don’t feel this way and those causing havoc, are making this situation even scarier for those of us who spend most of our days in scrubs.
This crisis has illuminated so many misconceptions about things that quite frankly, we should be ashamed exist. Asian Americans being targeted because of some awful belief that they are the carriers of the virus. And now, reading multiple accounts of healthcare workers being attacked, just by going on there every day lives, after doing their best to serve society. I’ve got to tell you, that makes this Greek nurse far more angry but, more so profoundly sad than I could ever begin to express.
Each branch of nursing has been stunned differently with this pandemic. Honestly, most of us never imagined that something like this could happen. It was one of those far off ideas, like actually meeting a space alien or finding a pair of jeans that fits on the first try. I’ve read about people saying that because we are healthcare workers, we know what we signed up for. Really? Because, does a scientist know that the experiment he is doing will cause some sort of freak side effect? No. It probably doesn’t cross his mind, even though it’s one of those way far off possibilities. That’s sort of the same analogy one can make with healthcare workers and a pandemic.
But, we are still heading out day after day, reporting two are chosen positions. The hospitals and ICU nurses walking into situations where they might be more used to better outcomes, but instead, they’re holding iPads up so that family members can see their last goodbyes. throughout this pandemic, it would almost seem that Nursing has taking a bit of a shift and it has become a bit more hospice focused. Sure, staff works extremely hard to save the lives of those affected, but there comes a point when saving is not possible and sending someone on their next chapter is what it is appropriate. They might be having chat about end-of-life care. They might be preparing patients for that transition by telling them to leave a note on their iPhone or asking if they would want a message passed on to their love ones who cannot be there. They shift focus on their comfort.
Isn’t that what Hospice is all about? We’ve all, and someways, become hospice nurses. Welcome to the team. Now, worries such as will this patient die alone? Or can I be in the room to hold their hand now readily flow through the minds of nurses and hospital workers. For some ,the taste of hospice nursing might be a catalyst for change in their own minds.
Hospice nurses experience the world differently. We experience it through experiences and through feelings rather than time limits or successful treatments. Did I make you smile today? Was I able to ease a worry? Did I listen hard enough to what you were saying to find a solution? Our scrubs might all be different, right now, a lot of us have become hospice nurses.